“Oh no!” he cried from the passenger seat. “That was our exit!”
“Hey, now we have more time to spend together,” I said as I looked at him slyly. I am directionally challenged, so making mistakes on the road wasn’t a new thing for me.
I took the next exit as we laughed cheerfully about some of the details from our date. We finally got back to campus, and he walked me to my dorm before saying goodnight.
A year later things had changed a little.
“Sweetheart, that was the exit we were supposed to take,” he scolded me harshly.
I rolled my eyes to myself. “Oh, it’s not a big deal, I’ll take the next one and Siri will re-route us,” I said calmly. It was strange that this seemed to be one of the many things we fought about lately. We weren’t on any sort of time constraint to get anywhere, so I didn’t understand the severity of my mistake. I was human, after all. He ought to know I am bound to mess up some… Right?
Why was it that every time the word “sweetheart” came from his lips I felt so low? It was supposed to be a word said with kindness for someone you love…
It was raining, but we decided to go out anyway.
“DAMN IT,” he cried in frustration. “You were supposed to turn there! Why weren’t you paying closer attention?”
The word “You” seemed to only be uttered when it was paired with harsh criticism. Sometimes “You are beautiful” would slip from his lips, but I had trouble taking the compliment. Did he think my heart was beautiful, or was this just lust? The timing of it always seemed too strange to be genuine.
Tears hid behind my eyes, but my body was used to working without my heart now. I knew how to turn off my feelings and shut everything down until I was home alone in my room and could cry if I still had the energy to. After all, I knew I would get scolded if I cried in front of him. It was the same cycle over and over again. I would make a mistake — even as simple as missing an exit or a turn — he would scold me harshly, and I would hold back tears. In his eyes I couldn’t do anything right anymore. I didn’t know why he still stayed with me, but he told me that I was lucky to be with a man who respected my boundaries — though I didn’t even feel this rang true anymore. I didn’t think our relationship was normal, but he claimed that we never fought and that most couples had far worse arguments than ours. A small piece of me believed him. That’s what made me stay.
He didn’t understand why I didn’t feel good when I was with him. It didn’t matter, though, as long as I could pretend I was okay. If I held it together just enough to make it through the day at least he had a chance at being happy. I would rather watch him be happy than feel that way myself anyway. I would do anything to make him happy — even when it was completely wrecking the cheerful girl who used to be so full of life.
I felt so empty; saying I was a shell of my former self would be an understatement. Calling me a robot might be a little more accurate, but at least they can be charged to have energy. I went through the motions every day, but wasn’t really living. Every decision I made was at a sad attempt to make him feel good. Why did he seem so miserable still? Why wasn’t anything I was doing for him making his life any better?
He told me how to make him happy. Sometimes it would be letting him live his life without me by his side, other times it would be compromising my values or my dreams for him.
“Compromise: Noun. An agreement or a settlement of a dispute that is reached by each side making concessions.”
What the hell was his concession? I followed him to work toward his life goals. I was ready to give up all the people I loved in my life to start a new one with him. I gave away my happiness and I gave away pieces of myself for him. And what did I get in return? Scolded.
“Let’s say your best friend was dating your boyfriend and you knew how he treated her. What advice would you give her?” A close friend finally asked me.
“I would tell her to break up with him and find someone who would treat her so much better,” I replied without hesitation. My best friend deserves someone who loves her more than anything in the world. Someone who will take care of her heart and her well-being as best as he possibly can. He will hurt when she hurts, learn all of the little things that make her smile, and plan a future with her that they are both excited about. He’ll look at her the way my boyfriend once did — like she’s the most beautiful person who has ever existed — but her guy’s love won’t burn out like ours had.
Holy shit. It hit me like a ton of bricks. Instead of feeling pain from the blow, I felt like a heavy weight was lifted from my chest. This was a moment that changed my life. I knew I deserved the same kind of love I wanted for my best friend. After all, I consistently told her when she wasn’t treated right that she would find a guy who would be her best friend and love her the way that every human being deserves to be loved. What kind of example was I setting to the women in my life about what love should look like? To be fair, they only saw the nice little snippets of my social media with him, which consisted of few and far between #TBT pictures or dates, but most of the time the smile in those pictures was only painted on my face. It wasn’t the genuine light that used to shine from my soul.
After months of dealing with so much, this moment showed me exactly what I needed to do. Break up with him.
And that’s what happened. I broke up with the guy who didn’t care about anything except his own happiness and satisfaction in our relationship. As soon as I realized it wasn’t my job to make the most selfish human in my life happy, joy rushed back into my body. I could feel again, I could breathe again, and I even learned to love again.
Today’s lesson: Never, ever settle for someone who makes you compromise who you are for them. Be with someone who genuinely cares about your well being — and until you find that person, you can certainly be happier staying single and loving yourself than dating the wrong person.